story+photos: Ellen Cora
For Villager John DeYoung, flying radio control model aircrafts is more challenging — and exciting — than flying small airplanes.
A lifelong love of aviation took The Villages resident John DeYoung from small-plane cockpits to the hand-held radio controls of his large model airplane collection.
In Michigan, he had his pilot’s license and flew a Cessna 172, a Piper Cherokee, and a Piper Saratoga, all owned by a Michigan flying club to which he belonged. He never got his instrument rating, flying only under visual flight rules (FVR). Nevertheless, one year after paying his small plane club dues in advance, and not flying at all, John realized the challenge of competing with radio control model aircrafts was what he really preferred to do.
Flying radio control airplanes is a popular hobby for more than 200 folks in The Villages and surrounding areas. Some RC flyers say they experience the same aeronautical rush and feeling of independence most full-size plane pilots do. Members of the Villages E-Flyers Club must live in The Villages and belong to the 150,000 member Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA). They often scurry in early fog to get planes in the air before the wind picks up. To protect horses and manicured lawns at the Villages Polo Fields, only lightweight electric aircraft are permitted.
“Once, John participated in a halftime flying show between polo matches,” says Anne, John’s wife. “I enjoyed that afternoon very much.”
John belongs to the Southern Eagle Squadron, a smaller club with a field on Rolling Acres Road, where model planes of various sizes and powers are flown. He also frequently competes at his favorite haunt, the Ocala Model Flyer Club in Belleview, and various meets around the country. Group practices take place, weather permitting, at the Ocala Model Flyer Club’s Belleview airstrip several mornings each week. International RC flying champions from all over the world compete in Florida because the usually mild climate is conducive to flying.
John is used to competition; he started the Bay City Flyers Club in Michigan, which holds aerobatic competitions. However, he never expected to receive a first place award at the International Miniature Aircraft Club’s 17th Annual Spring Classic, which took place in April in Land O’ Lakes. “I was very surprised and pleased,” John says. While these hobbyists enjoy free-form flying and camaraderie shared by fellow enthusiasts, there is much more to this pastime.
The model aircraft hobby has come a long way since its inception more than 60 years ago. The aircrafts have single or twin propellers, a rudder, and elevator; some have ailerons, flaps, and spoilers. Moving the planes through grueling competitive maneuvers with complex controls is not child’s play.
Club flowcharts diagram patterns of required maneuvers competitors must attempt. “Each maneuver is quite easy when done independently,” John explains, “but when you have to do 10 of these patterns in a row in a confined airspace — like within a virtual box or window — you must guide your plane out of one maneuver and right into the next one. It’s more difficult than you think because you have to be in the right place in the sky, ready for the next maneuver in the prescribed sequence.”
Anyone who visits the DeYoungs home in the Village of McClenny will likely tour their huge, two-story garage where John stores his toys. Hiding in plain sight are fine German-built automobiles, golf carts, a shiny black-and-chrome ‘big twin’ Yamaha motorcycle, and a stylish 1923 Ford T-bucket roadster. John’s joy, however, is his exceptional collection of large, radio control aircraft.
His largest is a 43 percent scale model blue and yellow Extra 330SC. It is about a nine feet long with a 10-foot wingspan. It came already painted and assembled, except for the four-cylinder 200cc engine and electrical system, which John installed. “It’s made of fiberglass and carbon fiber,” John says, “which is fiberglass processed under high heat to become super strong and durable, while retaining its light weight.”
Nearby sits a bright yellow Ultimate 10-300 ultralight balsawood biplane with a shiny film covering that John assembled from a kit. Its double wings span eight feet, with a two-cylinder 150cc engine. “My wife sometimes helps me with the tedious process of covering the wood with plastic film,” he says. His slightly smaller red, white, and blue Extra 260 plane, weighing only 28 pounds, was much more work. It came as a box of wooden sticks. With a few twists of a screwdriver, John removed the cockpit with its “pilot” inside to reveal its symmetrical inner balsawood frame and foam core.
John’s planes are scale models of actual aerobatic airplanes used today. His model fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters range in price from about $350 to $7,000. A mechanical lift takes John and his planes to a second-story storage area above his garage. John and Anne also have fun buzzing a small square four-rotor Quad Copter SQ1 around the property. “The precise control of this toy, and its instant takeoffs and landings, is impressive,” says John. “It sells ready-to-fly for about $100.”
Unfortunately, model planes do crash on occasion. According to John, every plane seems to have a number when its flying time is over — and as careful as he is with maintenance, he never knows when its number will be up. On a more positive note, John has logged upward of 2,000 flights on some models, which are still going strong.
Where to find flyers?
The Villages E-Flyers meets from 7:30 to 10:30a.m. (weather permitting) Mondays through Fridays at The Villages Polo Club. For more information, call Walter Steckenreiter at 352.753.5291, Barry Killick at 352.259.4271, or Harry McClary at 352.753.6362.
Southern Eagle Squadron (AMA Charter Club #1707) meets at 7p.m. every third Thursday of the month at the Leesburg Community Center, 109 E. Dixie Ave. For more information, visit southerneaglesquadron.com.
Ocala Model Flyer Club meets at 10a.m. on the first Saturday of each month at their field located at 1020 S.E. 110th St., Ocala. For more information, visit ocalaflyingmodelclub.com.